Coral reefs an important natural resource

Malaysia has an estimated 4,000km2 of coral reefs, which has an economic valued of RM145 billion per year. Sadly, 90% of our reefs are under threat from over fishing, development, pollution and integrated local threats. But are we doing anything about it?

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Alvin Chelliah/ Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) was registered in Malaysia as a non-profit company in 2007, and since then has established an annual survey programme to assess the health of coral reefs around Malaysia (reports are available for download from the website: www.reefcheck.org.my). In the last ten years, RCM has trained over 500 divers to conduct reef surveys at 200 permanent monitoring sites on coral reefs around the country.  RCM is also active in education and awareness programmes with students on Tioman, Sibu and Mantanani. In addition, we have been working with stakeholders in the Tioman island, Sibu Island, and in Mantanani to involve local communities in coral reef management.

Our survey data show that reefs monitored around Malaysia had an average of 43.71% live coral cover and it showed that reefs inside marine protected areas were healthier than those that were not protected by law. It is also clear that the best way to protect reefs is to improve the management of this ecosystem.

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Grant Tompson/ Reef Check Malaysia

We strongly advocate co-management and believe that stakeholders at all levels must be involved in the management and protection of natural resources. It is the only way to promote ownership and to get a fair representation for each stakeholder group. On Tioman, we are working with a group of local islanders know as the Tioman Marine Conservation Group to involve the local community in day-to-day conservation and management activities. They assist with tasks such as mooring buoy installations, reef rehabilitation, cleanups and reef health monitoring. On Mantanani, we are working with local stakeholders to set up a locally managed marine protected area that will benefit both tourism and local fishermen.

Malaysia is blessed with some of the most productive reefs in the world and it is vital that we sustainably manage this natural resource before it lost forever.

 

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Asian elephant symposia at ATBC 2018

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Using GPS collars to study wild elephants’ movement (photo credit: Wong Ee Phin/MEME)

The 55th Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) will be held in Kuching, Sarawak from the 1st to 5th July 2019. This is one of several international conferences taking place in Malaysia, attracting researchers from all over the world, that we (biodiversity and conservation researchers in Malaysia) should take the chance to participate.

Realising that ATBC 2018 presents a good opportunity for us to gather elephant researchers in the region to share knowledge, Dr. Nurzhafarina Othman (from Project Seratu Atai) and I (from Management & Ecology of Malaysian Elephants, MEME) decided to take up the challenge to organise a symposium for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Happy to say that our proposal has been accepted and the theme of the symposium is:  “Moving towards coexistence-reconciling elephant conservation and humans’ social dimension”.

Asian elephants, the largest terrestrial animal in Asia, are being threatened by the lack of habitat and also human-elephant conflict throughout its range. Besides the lack of knowledge on elephant population and behaviour, there is also a big gap on understanding local communities and their sentiments, and how to engage with them successfully on elephant conservation. Often the need of the community and elephant conservation are placed at opposing ends, when there could be a middle path that allows coexistence.

The objective of this symposium is to examine the human-elephant relationship from both angles (i.e. human social dimension and elephant behaviour) to promote deeper insights into human-elephant conflict and mitigation impact. Our speakers will look at the intricate relationship between human and elephants, emphasising on what it takes to engage with local communities and live in coexistence with elephants, and share new findings on elephant-human relationships. Instead of managing elephants as pest and problem animals, we should collectively start looking into conservation psychology and see how we can manage people to reduce the conflict.

There will be a diversity of speakers at this symposium including key players in the field of Asian elephant conservation, Ph.D.s and early career researchers. Confirmed speakers include Dr. Alexandra Zimmerman (Chester Zoo) who is the head of IUCN Human Wildlife Conflict Task Force, and Ananda Kumar (Nature Conservation Foundation) who won the esteemed Whitley Awards for nature conservation with the elephant SMS project at Annamalai Hills, southern India.

If you are interested to attend the ATBC 2018, the deadline for early bird registration and abstract submission 31st of March 2018 (note that for symposium abstract, the deadline is 15th March). To find out more about ATBC 2018, visit their website at http://atbc2018.org/. For information on the Asian elephant symposium, feel free to contact the organisers at eephin@gmail.com and nurzhafarina@gmail.com.

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Wild elephants at Kenyir, Terengganu (Photo credit: Wong Ee Phin/ MEME)

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Wild mango seedlings growing from seeds defecated by Asian elephants (Photo credit: Wong Ee Phin/MEME)

 

Who Are We – Langur Project Penang?

The Dusky Langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus), also known by other names, such as lotong, lutong, dusky leaf monkeys and spectacled langur, are distributed from Southern Burma to Peninsular Malaysia, and also found on the island of Penang. Found mostly in forested areas, the dusky langur is arboreal (i.e. lives in trees) and folivorous (i.e. specialize in eating leaves); although they also feed on certain fruits, flowers and young shoots. The dusky langur plays a crucial role in forest regeneration as an essential seed disperser. In many countries, primates like the dusky langur are considered part of its natural heritage, with immense biological interest and importance in ecological cycle.

An alpha male dusky langur (left) and an infant langur (right).

Due to deforestation that is the result of Penang’s rapid development, habitat loss has driven the dusky langur out of their quickly disappearing natural habitats into urban areas. As food sources become scarce, the monkeys are forced to travel between fragmented forests, exposing themselves to road accidents and encounters with other animals—especially humans. Humans often attempt to feed the monkeys, a habit Langur Project Penang (LPP) is working to discourage: not only does this alter the behaviour of the monkeys (i.e. inducing dependency on food handouts, disease transmission due to overcrowding behaviour and increased aggressiveness due to human-primate conflict), it also causes serious internal damage, since human food is not suitable for primates to digest safely.

Langurs roadkills have increased due to forest fragmentation.

Apart from deforestation and habitat fragmentation, another huge threat to the dusky langur is the illegal poaching and wildlife trade. The high demand for exotic animals as pets has caused an unrecorded number of monkey deaths, as poachers must annihilate an entire family group just to retrieve the baby; in a tragic twist, the baby soon follows its family, unable to live long without proper care. Still, most local residents have no idea on the population status of dusky langurs and why it is important to preserve the species and their surrounding natural habitat.

Demand is high on the illegal dusky langur trade

Sadly, demand is high on the illegal dusky langur trade.

With these threats in mind, the LPP positions itself as an outreach project under the umbrella of the Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). LPP is a research project that studies the ecology and behavior of the Dusky Langur. Initiated since January 2016, LPP aims to serve as a platform for environmental research and education for students and the local community. Founded by Joleen Yap, who is now a Ph.D. (Zoology) student in USM, she leads a small team of passionate and enthusiastic individuals of different backgrounds, established LPP to reach out to public of all ages to educate them about the importance of a healthy ecological cycle through fieldwork, citizen science conservation programmes and nature education.

LPP counts members from numerical backgrounds and ethnics!

LPP counts members from numerical backgrounds and ethnics!

LPP is actively involved in various wildlife conservation events and programmes in Penang and other parts of Peninsular Malaysia, where these efforts aim to expose local residents of all backgrounds toward the importance of conserving our natural resources (flora and fauna). To attract people’s attention toward understanding of rainforest ecosystem, LPP places dusky langurs as the ‘ambassador’ of the forest, where people get the chance to learn about the langurs’ homes (natural habitats), friends (sympatric species) and food (native plants). This serves as a complete forest education syllabus to the young and elders.

Our project founder, Joleen, and project assistant, Wen, tracking the langurs on the hills

Our project founder, Joleen, and project assistant, Wen, tracking the langurs on the hills

We will be updating more information regarding LPP soon in this blog! From fieldwork to education and conservation aspects. For more interesting updates regarding LPP, please visit these following links:

https://www.facebook.com/LangurProjectPenang/

https://www.rufford.org/projects/jo_leen_yap

https://www.rufford.org/projects/jo_leen_yap_0

http://ericthoo.com/2017/12/27/langur-project-penang-dirty-hands/

https://www.mystartr.com/projects/langurprojectpenang

https://www.mystartr.com/projects/langurprojectpenang

http://anilnetto.com/environmentclimate-change/hills-sea-scant-regard-ecosystem/